ONE LINE SYNOPSIS HALF OF A YELLOW SUN is an epic love-story weaving together the lives of four people swept up in the turbulence of war in 1960s Nigeria.
Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) are glamorous twins from a wealthy Nigerian family. Upon returning to a privileged city life in newly independent 1960s Nigeria after their expensive English education, the two women make very different choices. Olanna shocks her family by going to live with her lover, the “revolutionary professor” Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his devoted houseboy Ugwu (John Boyega) in the dusty university town of Nsukka; Kainene turns out to be a fiercely successful businesswoman when she takes over the family interests, and surprises even herself when she falls in love with Richard (Joseph Mawle), an English writer. Preoccupied by their romantic entanglements, and a betrayal between the sisters, the events of their life seem to loom larger than politics. However, they become caught up in the events of the Nigerian civil war, in which the lgbo people fought an impassioned struggle to establish Biafra as an independent republic, ending in chilling violence which shocked the entire world.
A sweeping romantic drama, HALF OF A YELLOW SUN takes the sisters and their lovers on a journey through the war which is powerful, intensely emotional and, as the response of readers around the world has shown, it is a story which can touch everyone’s heart.
LONG SYNOPSIS Lagos, 1960. Nigeria is celebrating its new status as an independent country, free from the British rule for the first time in nearly 60 years. Twin sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), who have recently returned from studying in England, prepare for dinner with a senior government minister at their parents' home. Their father is keen for the idealistic Olanna to take up a government position but she announces that she will instead be moving to the university town of Nsukka to take up a post as a sociology lecturer, and to be close to radical university professor Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Kainene is scathing of her sister's lover, whom she labels The Revolutionary. The more hard-nosed of the two, she will be heading up her father’s business interests in Port Harcourt.
Later that evening, Olanna and Kainene attend a party where Kainene, a notorious flirt, catches the eye of Richard (Joseph Mawle), an English journalist who is about to take up a position
teaching English at Nsukka. Richard immediately falls for Kainene and they begin a love affair. Meanwhile, Olanna heads to Nsukka to take up her post at the University and is reunited with Odenigbo, moving into a flat nearby him and his illiterate houseboy, Ugwu (John Boyega). They settle into a contented and social existence, with lots of evening entertaining, discussing politics with fellow intellectuals over wine. However, the peace is shattered when Odenigbo’s Mama (Onyeka Onwenu) visits and immediately attacks Olanna’s upbringing and education, calling her a witch and demanding that she leave her son. Odenigbo causes further upset when he does not leap to Olanna's defence, on the grounds that his mother is a simple village woman. They make up together and plan to start trying for a baby.
Meanwhile, a coup in the North of the country, based around resentments against the Igbo ruling class, leaves Lagos under the control of the army and Olanna and Kainene rush back to see their parents. While Olanna is away, Odenigbo’s Mama returns and brings Amala (Susan Wokoma), a young village girl, to help her. After a drunken evening, Odenigbo sleeps with Amala. Olanna immediately senses his betrayal on her return to Nsukka and leaves Odenigbo.
Olanna refuses to see Odenigbo until he tells her that Amala is pregnant and is keeping the child. She goes back to him, but in an act of revenge, Olanna impulsively seduces Kainene’s partner, Richard. Odenigbo discovers this on his return and is outraged at Richard, but realises that he cannot take the moral high ground under the circumstances.
Mama brings Odenigbo’s new born daughter to him telling him that Amala is refusing to keep her. Initially Odenigbo plans to send her to be brought up by Amala's family but when the childless Olanna holds her, she decides that they will keep the little girl. They call her Baby, and Olanna asks Kainene to be her Godmother. However, Richard’s over-eager house boy, Harrison, lets slip that Odenigbo had confronted Richard, and Kainene guesses Olanna’s betrayal, creating a seemingly irreparable rift between the two sisters.
Meanwhile, riots have broken out between the Hausa people from the North and Igbo people from the East of the country. Prejudice builds up against the Igbos, but Olanna remains defiantly proud of her background. At Kano airport, Olanna and Richard pass each other, before the army arrive and begin to segregate the civilians. Olanna has left already, but all other Igbos are rounded up and shot in cold blood, to the horror of Richard who witnesses the massacre, before returning to London. Olanna arrives at her Aunt’s house to find that the violence has spread to this neighbourhood too, and she sees her beloved Aunt die at the hands of rebels before escaping.
As East Nigeria declares itself an independent state called Biafra, and prepares to take up arms against the aggressors, Odenigbo, Olanna, Ugwu and Baby are forced to evacuate Nsukka, leaving everything behind and fleeing to Mama’s house in Abba. Odenigbo asks Olanna to marry him and after denying him for so long, she accepts. Civil war spreads south to Abba and the family are again forced to move on. Mama defiantly refuses to leave her home and the others are forced to depart to Umuahia without her. Olanna's mother travels to her to try to persuade her to come to England with them, but she will not leave her family.
Odenigbo and Olanna’s wedding day arrives but the celebrations are shattered when an explosion rips through the village, the target of an airstrike by Northern government forces. They are forced to escape to the jungle, hiding from the bombings whilst teaching the local children. Having been encouraged by Odenigbo to finish his education, Ugwu is now teaching alongside Olanna. Odenigbo tries to return to Abba to find his mother but finds out that her village was attacked and she has been killed.
Richard makes the decision to return from London to be with Kainene who has been forced to evacuate Port Harcourt and is now running a refugee camp, to help cope with the hundreds of thousands of homeless and starving Biafrans. Olanna and family move nearby and, through a series of visits and against the background of such trauma, she and Kainene begin to rebuild their relationship.
In a desperate move, the Biafran army has begun to train boy soldiers and Ugwu is forcibly enlisted. Kainene hears that he has been killed and tells a distraught Olanna. She takes out her pain and fury on Odenigbo, who is drinking himself into despair.
Olanna and her family are forced to evacuate as they are bombed once again. This time, having run out of money, they are forced to take refuge in Kainene and Richard’s home. In order to get hold of desperately needed supplies for themselves and the refugee camp, Kainene heads to Ninth Mile Road, a dangerous stretch across the Biafran border, but does not return. Olanna and Richard search for her to no avail. A call comes in which Richard desperately hopes is word of Kainene but in fact is news for Odenigbo and Olanna – Ugwu is still alive.
As the war ends with Biafra's surrender, Ugwu returns to the family but Kainene is still missing. Richard continues to search for her, ever more hopelessly, as Olanna, Odenigbo, Ugwu and Baby return home to Nsukka to rebuild their shattered lives.
“A well-acted, finely wrought epic… The faultless ’60s art direction helps to bring the milieu to life, as do Mr. Ejiofor’s and Ms. Newton’s typically stormy performances.” – The New York Times
“Superb performances, particularly from Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose. This geographically restless story can hardly fail to engross, particularly with Newton at the top of her game.” – Variety
“The film is gorgeous, evocative, and easily the highlight of Newton’s achievements as an actress”
“Great performances from richly drawn images… Chiwetel Ejiofor, turning in yet another superb performance this year.” – Indiewire
“An epic and striking adaptation… Powerful and moving performances” – Screen Daily
“A brilliant directing debut” – The Huffington Post
“Terrific. It’s a fascinating story.” – Access Hollywood
“Great performances (notably by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton)” – Entertainment Weekly
“A rich and passionate saga” – The Village Voice
“Newton remains a dynamic presence throughout” – Slant Magazine
HALF OF A YELLOW SUN PRODUCTION STORY
“It’s essentially a love story," Biyi Bandele introduces his feature film debut, an adaptation of the internationally best-selling Orange Prize-winning novel of the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He elaborates, "It’s about people falling in love and the sacrifices you have to make sometimes when you are in a relationship.” More specifically, he explains, “It is about a generation of Nigerians who grew up in the 1960s, which is when Nigeria along with most African countries gained independence. And this was a generation of Africans, of Nigerians, who were so imbued with confidence, with enthusiasm, with optimism about the future of the country and of Africa. Before the end of that decade things begin to unravel before them, around them, and the dream they had for that country becomes very, very complicated.”
For the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the story was an intensely personal one. She explains: “Much of the story of Odenigbo in the novel is based on my father’s own experiences. My father had just returned from the US with his new PHD in Mathematics, was eager, like most of the other educated Nigerians of his generation, to join in the task of nation building after independence, and then things fell apart: the coup, the massacres, the war. My father and his friends lost their innocence in that war.”
The scars of the conflict are still present in families across modern-day Nigeria, none more so than Adichie’s. “In my family, nobody really spoke about what they had experienced until I began to ask questions while researching the novel. Almost everything that happens in the novel is based on something that happened to someone real, a family member, a family friend, although I changed some details.”
ADAPTING A BEST SELLER See interview on CNN:
CNN Interview Biyi Bandele Nigerian born playwright and novelist Biyi Bandele came across Adichie’s book soon after it was published and it had a dramatic impact on him, as he explains: “I was completely bowled over by the sheer scale of it. Chimamanda’s writing is phenomenal.” The book held a particular poignancy for Bandele as he outlines. “Because I was born in Nigerian during the Nigerian civil war, it is a subject that has always fascinated me and I have always wanted there to be a book or film about Biafra." He thought the story would make a great film, and his immediate thought was to send the book to Andrea Calderwood, who had recently produced Kevin Macdonald’s THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. As Bandele continues: “She read it and came back a week later and said, yes, I agree it will make a great movie.”
Producer, Andrea Calderwood picks up the story. “What I loved about the book was that it’s a very strong human story. It’s quite a universal story about these women making very bold choices in their lives. It’s set against the backdrop of the Nigerian civil war, a very significant time in Nigeria. Chimamanda’s book felt to me like a universal story about universal human emotions but those emotions are heightened by being in a state of war. So we felt that you didn’t need to have any prior knowledge of the Nigerian civil war in order to understand the story." The book's best selling status across the world proves that point. Calderwood continues, "I think what draws people to it is that it really is about these women in particular, making very surprising choices, and what they decide to do with their lives and how they deal with their relationships."
Calderwood explains that Adichie was happy for Bandele to translate her book to the screen over others who had approached her as she very much respected his novels and theatre work. According to Calderwood, "She felt that she would be in very safe hands and that Biyi would be the person to understand all the nuances and complexities of what she was writing about. She was very generous in the way that she allowed Biyi to take it and turn it into something else.” Bandele adds, "Whenever she was in London we would meet up and I was incredibly passionate about it and I think that came across."
Bandele describes the challenge of turning a 500 page book into a film of under two hours. “It’s like translating something from one language to another. In order to make it work you have to find new idioms, new ways of saying the same thing in a new language.” He continues, "I was trying to capture the essence of the book. I had to decide what was going to stay in and what was going to stay out. The book for instance is told from the point of view of Ugwu who is the houseboy, and Ugwu is a prominent character in our movie but I decided I wanted to tell the story through the eyes of Olanna.”
And what of Adichie's response to the script? Bandele decided against showing it to her at that stage, because of the change in focus. When it came to showing the novelist the final film, Bandele describes how terrified he felt. "I actually stayed away from the screening, even though I was in the neighbourhood. Then I got a phone call from Andrea saying she loved it!”
When Bandele later met up with Adichie she told him that she was glad not to have seen the script beforehand as her faith in him was justified. As Bandele tells it, “She said, ‘You got the book! You absolutely got the book.’“
Thandie Newton, who plays the lead character Olanna, had read, and fallen in love with, the novel even before being approached for the film. "I was completely entranced by the idea of trying to distil the elements of the novel into the movie. But the real turning point for me was meeting Chimamanda. It gave me on the one hand permission to portray those dearly loved characters and on the other, to leave a lot of the stuff behind. I realised Chimamanda was very relaxed about the film being made; she was curious, excited, but seemed very clear that the book will always stand alone and that we were a cousin of the book."
For Yewande Sadiku, one of the Nigerian based Executive Producers, backing a film based on this particular best-selling book made complete sense. She explains that as well as being an important story to tell, it held much promise for a broad international audience. As she puts it, "It has great significant cultural value. It’s an adaptation of a book the world has demonstrated that it can relate to."
“It has made me aware, once again, how different films are from novels. They are such different forms, and achieve such different things” says Adichie. She hopes that fans of the novel will also see it that way. “I think they’ll love it, as I did, as long as they realize that a film is never going to merely replicate a book. It’s such a strange thing to see an adaptation of one’s book, to see characters I made up suddenly translated to the screen. I was worried that I would dislike it. After I saw it, I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to Biyi and the actors.”
IN LOVE AND WAR:
For Bandele, a key reason for choosing this film, and why he had originally been so moved by the book, was because he felt the story of his country's civil war, which lasted for three years from 1967 to 1970, was not being told. As he explains, "Immediately after the war we had this flurry of literature about it, and then nothing. And it just became the elephant in the room, it became something that dominated absolutely everything but nobody talked about it. I felt that Nigeria as a nation needed a form of healing, and that healing could only start once we started talking about that elephant in the room, the war."
At the same time many of the team agree that the rest of the world's knowledge and awareness of this period of history has been overshadowed by other events that were taking place at the same time in Vietnam and on US soil with the Civil Rights Movement. It was an important story to tell not just to Nigerians, but to a wide international audience.
“We decided that we wouldn’t try and recreate the scenes of the war,” explains Bandele, “partly because it’s not something that our characters experience directly. But we did want to set a context of what’s happening in the wider country, so we used newsreel as a way to do that.” Another impetus for presenting the war in this style is outlined by Andrea Calderwood. "The Biafran War was one of the first ‘media’ wars. It was one of the first times that people around the world were shown very graphic pictures of what was happening in the war; that it was a region under siege. We felt it was appropriate to use some of the newsreel of the time to give a sense of how the war was being reported and how it was being represented, which wasn’t always the same as the way it was being experienced. The war was being mediated through the news reporting of the time.”
"It’s a universal story," says Thandie Newton, "not just the fact that it happened around 1968. There are similar situations going on all over the world and I think it focuses more on the family than the actual politics."The film opens on Olanna and her twin sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), prosperous twins, who are very well-educated, at the beginning of their adult life. In a parallel sense we see a newly independent Nigeria starting out on what looks like it will be a wonderful journey. Later, everything starts to break down. The internal tensions within Nigeria that have been hinted at result in a coup, and violence starts to break out and the characters have to start to react.
As the war unfolds, so do the central relationships unravel. Thandie Newton encapsulates the film, "...as a Gone with the Wind in Nigeria. It’s not just about the political scene, it’s also about this couple, Olanna and Odenigbo, who go through personal crises and who then have to deal with epic national crises."
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Olanna's university professor lover, talks about the emotional upheavals that take place amidst the geo-political changes that were going on. "Whilst charting the political changes that are happening in Nigeria which lead to the Biafran war, we also chart the story of these relationships. The story focuses in very specifically on these characters who are involved in these very complicated relationships that are Odenigbo, Olanna and her sister Kainene and Richard (Joseph Mawle) who’s a British journalist who’s living in Nigeria. So that’s the emotional heart of the story and around those characters this very complex, chaotic situation is unfolding."
Ejiofor continues: "The film is a very warm and very deep and exciting love story that occurs in a country that is undergoing a seismic shift and falling into a kind of brutal, free flowing turmoil. And through that this beautiful humanity is discussed and arises in this small group of characters that we follow. Around all this, we find a country being reborn as something else and I think these characters as well."
OLANNA AND KAINENE
At the heart of the film are twins Olanna and Kainene. Calderwood explains that what Bandele decided to concentrate on in the film, which is slightly different in the novel, is their personalities and the difference in their personalities. As she elaborates, "Olanna is the one who is more idealistic. Her way of contributing to the new Nigeria is to go off and be a university lecturer and she has fallen in love with Odenigbo, who’s described as a revolutionary professor. He’s a bit of an armchair Marxist which was part of the culture at the time. So in that sense, Olanna represents the idealism of people wanting to give something back to the country through education."
On the other side, Calderwood continues, "Kainene is more business-minded, she’s a sharper character. She is taking on the family businesses, which is also very impressive for a young woman at that time, in 1960."
Adichie reveals that the very reason Kainene and Olanna are twins is to highlight their very different approaches to life and the world around them. “Age is important in Igbo culture. A younger sibling has to show a certain respect, a certain deference, to the older. I wanted the sisters to start off being the same age, so that the tensions and complexities of their relationship would be based solely on their different personalities and experiences, and not on any age difference.”
Bandele depicts the differences in the twins as follows: “Olanna is a very focused woman. Very strong, but unlike her twin sister Kainene, who has a pretty in your face attitude to everything in life, a pretty ballsy way of doing things, Olanna is much more considered.” However as Odenigbo finds out to his cost, she is a tough person when she needs to be. He continues, “She can be quite formidable, quite scary. I love her character."
Thandie Newton talks of the significance of the twins to the story: "Each seems to represent different sides of Igbo society. Kainene is very much the elite brigade of Igbo, and Olanna is more interested in the socialist aggravating for political change. So they show two sides of the coin."
FINDING THE CAST
Casting a well loved novel can ignite debate when viewers will have their own set ideas about the characters. Calderwood talks about these particular challenges. “We wanted to try and embody the spirit of the characters in the book. It doesn’t really work just to try and be literal about how you transcribe the book to the screen. I think that’s what people will find when they come to the film - that Biyi’s done a fantastic job in capturing the spirit of those characters and their relationships.”
For the roles of Olanna and Kainene, Andrea Calderwood talks about wanting to find two actresses who had complementary personalities and energy, as she explains, "Because the defining characteristics of Olanna and Kainene are quite different, the idea was to find two actresses whose energy would complement each other". She continues, "Thandie Newton is an actress who I’ve known for a long time and worked with more than once over the years. She’s an incredibly accomplished actress. When we approached her about the role of Olanna, she really embraced it as a role that she wanted to immerse herself in. Chimamanda describes Olanna as her better self, an idealised version of herself, and we introduced Thandie and Chimamanda to each other quite early on in the process and they got on fantastically, and I think Chimamanda found that Thandie was somebody that could really embody the spirit of Olanna, as she’d written her.
Bandele says that he really wanted to work with Newton, who he considers one of the finest actors of her generation. However his first idea for her was not for Olanna, as he explains. "Initially I was actually considering her for Kainene and then I realised she had played Kainene types quite often in the past and she had never played a character like Olanna. I remember the first meeting I had with Thandie about the character and I had sent her the script previously and asked her to read Kainene. I got to the meeting and we spent about two hours there and Thandie just laid into me why she thought Olanna was the character she should play not Kainene, and what really convinced me was the sheer passion that she had." He knew she would make a powerful Olanna so had to go back and rethink his casting.
The decision to cast her certainly paid off in the eyes of the author. “I love Thandie Newton as Olanna,” Adichie says. “I was very moved by Olanna. Thandie Newton’s performance is nuanced, the character is both strong and vulnerable, just as I imagined her.”
He describes how he went on to cast Anika Noni Rose: "I had seen Anika in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, a TV series directed by Anthony Mingella in which she plays a secretary. When I saw it I wasn't actually looking for someone to play Kainene. I came across her name and I was surprised to find out that she was African American. But I knew that if anyone could carry off the character of Kainene it was Anika."
Newton was thrilled with this casting: "I already knew Anika Noni Rose from working on COLOURED GIRLS a couple of years before and we struck up a very, very good friendship very quickly. We just clicked and we always joked about wouldn’t it be great if we could work with each other again. I actually emailed Biyi saying ‘wouldn’t Anika Noni Rose be amazing for this role’ and he’d already set up a meeting." Their closeness is a reason that Newton thinks that their on screen relationship works so convincingly, as she explains. "I think one of the reasons we can really get to very touching places, places of real poignancy and emotion and tenderness, is because we have so much fun off camera." As well as sharing a love of the era, the women shared so many ideas off screen that playing on screen twins came naturally."We are really fascinated by the contradictions that display themselves in the movie. You’ve got these two people who love each other more than anything and yet one sister hurts the other sister in ways that you could never imagine. We were very keen to make that as real and as honest as possible."
“Kainene is someone who can be construed as someone cold, someone chilly,” Anika Noni Rose explains. “She’s actually just very matter of fact because she’s also a caretaker; she spends a lot of time taking care of her sister. Maybe not in the way that she would want to be taken care of.” Whilst she loves her sister, Kainene far from approves of her choice of man. “I’m constantly on him which of course she doesn’t want to hear. But of course it’s not just about dislike it’s the fact that I don’t think they’re right for each other.”
Life becomes even more complex and difficult as Rose explains. “Olanna has an affair with Richard - there really seems to be no turning back from that. It is the ultimate in betrayal, when the person you shared a womb with, makes an effort to take what is yours, to ruin something that finally feels right in your life. It’s extraordinarily ugly, painful and very hard to come back from and the only thing that made it forgivable was the fact that war came. Because war became more horrid, more ugly, more painful than that hurt, than that rift. Kainene actually has a line in the film when she says ‘there are some things that are so unforgivable, that they make other things easily forgivable,’ and it had to come to that point for her to say ‘ok, this no longer matters’.”
OLANNA AND ODENIGBO
As for Olanna’s on screen partner, Thandie Newton talks about how she had also worked with Chiwetel Ejiofor previously, including on his debut feature. "Chiwetel and I have played three different couples now in movies. He was saying: Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn!"
Bandele describes Ejiofor’s character. "Odenigbo is this... we kept calling him a would-be Fidel Castro. He is a left wing academic, he is a math teacher at a university and he and Olanna meet and fall in love. He is somewhat of a hot head, always making grand political speeches and there was a danger with that character that if I hadn’t found the right actor for it, of that character coming across as one dimensional. Chiwetel just brought his vast, amazing skills to that character and Odenigbo is an amazing character in the movie.” He continues to explain that Ejiofor, who based the character on his own Nigerian Igbo grandfather, and he had been talking about working together even before the script had been written, and so had watched the development of the film from the beginning. Bandele concludes, “I think Chiwetel’s performance in this movie is one of his best in years and he is an actor who is always at the top of his game."
Ejiofor outlines how he came onboard the project. "I’d known Biyi Bandele for a long time. I mean for many, many, many years and I’ve always been a huge fan of his work and his writing and I loved the book. When I heard that Biyi was doing an adaptation I knew that it was going to be an exciting project. So seven years ago, Biyi first spoke to me about playing Odenigbo and I was immediately keen to do it." He continues, "Biyi’s always had a clear understanding of what he wants this film to be and his writing is very rich and sparse at the same time which allows all the emotions in without over telling anything. His script is so detailed and he’s so precise on the emotional journey that he is trying to tell and the richness of that journey that it becomes very pleasant to work with him."
Ejiofor describes his character. "As an Igbo, Odenigbo, his name literally translating as the sovereign of Igbo, royalty of Igbo, he’s also a tribalist. Intellectually he is pushed from the changes in government without realising that they would actually lead to the pogroms [organised killing of minorities] which started against the Igbo population in the mid Sixties and then the outbreak of full scale war once Biafra had seceded from the rest of Nigeria."
Bandele elaborates on the passionate discussions he would have with Ejiofor. "Quite often with Chiwetel we would exchange ideas and in the end what would end up in the screen would be a combination of what came from him and what I was suggesting. I would sometimes get text messages from Chiwetel at four in the morning about a scene we were shooting that day. I’m like, go to sleep man! But, it was great, he is a professional." Thandie Newton explains how evident it was that for Bandele and Ejiofor this had become a labour of love. "It has a depth and a history and it resonates with both of Biyi and Chiwetel in a profound way."
For Adichie, “Chiwetel Ejiofor is a perfect Odenigbo, in every way, in addition to being arguably the sexiest man in the world. He brings something true and seamless to the role.”
Ejiofor for his part was thrilled to be cast against Thandie Newton once again, and to have an instant rapport with her on screen. "I was very excited that she was on board to play Olanna because she has an effortless grace to her; beautiful and intelligent but also easy with that. She is very charming and generous as an actor and phenomenally talented. So a package of everything you want to work with, especially in something as delicate and intricate as this, because you are playing a few different levels in these relationships. Not only are they trying to negotiate their own romantic issues but they are also in the midst of this conflict, in the midst of all this destruction and still trying to work out their relationship."
KAINENE AND RICHARD
The third key relationship of the story is Kainene’s with Englishman in Africa, Richard, played by Joseph Mawle. Mawle describes his character as “a loner, a traveller, who finds himself in a land that makes sense to him, in a simple sense. He’s a combination of things: he’s a philosopher, he’s an artist, he’s a writer but he’s a man looking for his own belonging, looking for his own identity, and he certainly felt that he didn’t have an identity in England. Actually he feels more comfortable in Africa which manifests itself very much in this presence of Kainene".
Mawle goes on to reinforce the sense that love and war are inextricably linked across the film, as he explains: “I think the love story is a larger part of our telling and the war helps push that forward and we understand how strong a bond is when things are going horribly wrong on the home front and yet, even though one participant within it is able to leave at will, he is constantly coming back into this fray because of this person. It is very much about her, it is her that’s keeping him there, not Africa, it’s Kainene herself, and his love.”
Anika Noni Rose talks about her powerful on screen love affair. “We meet at a party and something sparks immediately between us. I think people have sexual spark immediately often but rarely do people have sexual spark that then lasts. We actually have that and it turns into a very honest and true love. They have a very honest relationship; they know each other and love each other for exactly who they are and when it becomes dishonest, it comes as a bigger blow than it would have been because of that. Kainene is someone who’s actually quite guarded, so for her to open herself up to this man who is quite lovely and very smart and interesting is somewhat devastating to her.”
Mawle found Anika Noni Rose quite unlike her hard-headed character, as he tells it: “She’s earthy, honest, vibrant... She plays an extraordinary character that she is very different to in real life, so definitely two sides to Anika. They don’t have any parallels apart from their inner want to please and be liked, loved and be kind.”
A MODERN AFRICA
For Biyi Bandele, a draw of the book was that it shines a fresh new light on African characters, as he outlines. “The fact that you have these educated middle class characters, intellectuals who were not victims. I’ve lived in London actually longer than I’ve lived in Nigeria and quite often I’ve gone to see a movie about Africa and always, always it’s the same story. It’s about victimhood."
The strength of the female characters in the novel was a very deliberate move by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “I very much wanted to write about the war through the eyes of women. The war changed gender dynamics. In Biafra, women were active members of the militia, women traded across enemy lines to keep families alive, women took on many roles that they might not have been able to if the gender power structures had not been disrupted by war.”
“There is something undeniably modern about these female characters”, says Calderwood which was one of the attractions of the novel for her. She continues, "I think they make very surprising choices over the course of the film and I think that’s something that can appeal to a modern audience, particularly a modern female audience, is that we have this idea that people in the past possibly lived more constrained lives. We also have an idea that people in Africa somehow don’t live as full and rich lives as people in the West. I think that was the thing that we really wanted to get across, that these are very modern characters with a very modern outlook; they represent the new Nigeria, they’ve made very positive choices in their lives."
"These people do exist in Nigeria,” Bandele goes on to explain. “We had a screening for some of our Nigerian financiers, and in the screening there was the president of a bank in Nigeria, a pretty major bank, who was a woman and she saw it and said afterwards to me: That’s my story; Olanna - that was me in the Sixties. And she had all these stories about her friends who are all quite successful in what they do right now, and it is a very modern story."